Giving the Gift of Health: Tips for Healthier Food Donations

December 8, 2014

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Between travel plans, shopping and holiday celebrations, we often overlook those in our very own communities that are in need during this season.

In Georgia, many families struggle with securing shelter, clothing and even food.  Food insecurity, or the inability to access adequate food due to limited finances or resources, is one of Georgia’s growing public health challenges.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), a Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) partner, is a participating member of Feeding America, a network of food banks that serve 5.4 million people nationwide.  These member food banks collaborated earlier this year to conduct Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America Study which documents food insecurity statistics throughout Georgia.

According to the study, more than 700,000 children under age 18 in Georgia are food insecure.  Additionally, 16.7 percent of people living in ACFB’s service area in metro Atlanta and north Georgia do not have access to adequate food options.

The data also revealed interesting parallels between food insecurity and access to health services.  Between 86 percent of the food bank’s clients purchase inexpensive, unhealthy food because they could not afford healthier options.  Moreover, 73 percent report having to choose between paying for food over paying for medical care.

The growing need for Georgians to access one of life’s most basic necessities underscores the important role charitable organizations play in providing equal access to healthy foods every day.  During this holiday season, DPH health experts are encouraging Georgians to donate to their local food bank while keeping health and nutrition top of mind.

“We know that families that are food insecure and low income are at the highest risk for chronic diseases based on our data,” said Donna DeCaille, MS, RDN, LD, nutritionist at DPH.   “Many of these families depend on food banks to supplement their diets, but some of the unhealthiest items are often donated. Unhealthy foods can fill your stomach, but will subsequently leave you undernourished or malnourished.”

DeCaille recommends shoppers be more cognizant of healthy eating habits when purchasing food donation products.  Rather than reaching for the cheapest items in the grocery aisle, she encourages shoppers to think about the components of a nutritious diet.

“Healthy food is the foundation of good health,” DeCaille said.  “We should be mindful that good meals are well-balanced and should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Incorporating these items onto your donation list can be just as cost-effective as unhealthier options and make a more positive impact on the health of Georgians.”

ACFB also encourages the donation of a wide selection of healthy options including low-sodium or no salt added vegetables, olive oil, soy or rice milk, unsalted nuts, and much more.

“Health doesn’t need a holiday,” DeCaille said. “The holidays are always a great time to give back to our communities, but thinking about the health and wellness of our fellow Georgians should be our priority all year.”

You can also make financial donations to support ACFB. For every dollar donated, the organization is able to distribute $9.21 worth of groceries. 

To learn more about the Atlanta Community Food Bank and review a comprehensive list of food donation items, visit http://www.acfb.org/.

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